New Year, New Hope

08 January 2017

Happy New Year! It's been a while, hasn't it? 2016 was a heck of a year, and I didn't do much writing during the course of it (obviously). But that's something I hope to remedy in 2017.

With the start of a new year, many people evaluate the year gone by and their goals for the coming year. I'm sure you've seen posts all over Facebook and Instagram, as well as any given blog. I used to be one of those people who set goals. Heck, I set one last year to hike 52 hikes within the year. Turns out, goal-setting and I don't get along terribly well.

What happened?

First, I'd like to start with the why. Why did I set this particular goal for myself? I love spending time outdoors, and living in the city makes me feel crowded and overwhelmed. I need space to breathe. Fresh air. Beautiful scenery. I set out to go on 52 hikes in order to make time in nature a priority, and to go on some hikes that I've wanted to do for years (but just hadn't gotten around to for whatever reason). 

I started strong, going on a hike nearly every Sunday, either with my hiking buddy or solo. I invested in good gear, did research on which trails I wanted to hike each week based on the weather. I logged my mileage and elevation every week and tracked my hikes in a journal.

But then my buddy moved away. And then I got sick. I'm talking, two weeks sick. And then, when I tried hiking again, my body didn't respond the way it used to. I had to take more frequent breaks to catch my breath. My heart felt like it was racing, despite the elevation gain being relatively low. Something felt off. Not only this, but finding new hiking buddies became more difficult. Portland is a really hard place to make new friends. So I stopped hiking on a regular basis.

Now, I didn't throw my goal out in a cavalier manner. Instead, I was forced to reevaluate my goal. Did hiking 52 hikes within the year still serve me? I already achieved much of what I wanted in the first place- I spent more time outdoors, I hiked some trails I'd been wanting to visit for years (Trail of Ten Falls, Silver Star Mountain, Chinidere Mountain, Saddle Mountain). I found that I'd gotten what I needed out of this goal, and that it was time to let it go.

And so I start 2017 not with goals, but with hopes. Because of the challenges and disappointments that came in the past year, I've been reflecting and evaluating what I want more of in the next year. 

What are my hopes for 2017?

  • Spend more time exploring my love of wine. 
  • Read more.
  • Write more.
  • Cook more.
  • Build quality relationships.
  • Get comfortable with feeling and expressing excitement/sadness.

I hope to share more about these hopes soon in separate posts, but for now I'll leave you by asking: what are your hopes this year?

One Step at a Time

21 March 2016

This weekend I embarked on hike #10 of my 52 Hike Challenge. I went solo for this hike, and decided to tackle a trail that I've done with a friend before. Because of the rain, I knew another waterfall hike was in order, and what better than a familiar, waterfall-filled hike? So at 9:30am I set off with my gear and headed to do the Triple Falls Hike. 

I lucked out with the weather, as it barely rained during most of my hike. There were a few other hikers out, though not nearly as many as there would be if it had been sunny. Instead, there were just enough people to make me feel okay about hiking alone in case I needed to call for help, but not so many that I did not get the solitude I sought.

Let's talk about solo-hiking for a moment. I've done a few solo hikes before, so it's not a huge terrifying thing to me. I have done a lot of things solo in my life, so it was pretty natural for me to take up hiking without a companion. Initially, it didn't seem like a big deal. But, as with many things, as the first time drew near and I started considering all of the logistics, I realized just how scary it can be to hike alone. What if I fall and injure myself and I don't have cell service? What if I come across a predator- human or animal? What if I get lost? These are all legitimate fears when hiking alone, but nothing that a little preparation and being smart cannot mitigate.

One of my greatest accomplishments was hiking Dog Mountain all on my own on a hot Summer Monday. I think I came across 3-4 other hiking pairs, so I was really on my own for that hike. For those who are unfamiliar, Dog Mountain is a steep, strenuous hike and is a known thigh-burner. Temps were set to hit the upper 80s/low 90s, so I brought as much bottled water and coconut water that I could fit in my pack. I wore shorts and a tank top, my trusty hiking shoes, and trekking poles. I was as prepared as I could be, and as determined as ever. I did my best to hike as quickly as I could before the temperature really started to soar, but also keeping in mind my finite water supply. I had only one moment of fear on that trail, and it was when I heard some rustling in the forest behind me. What I was afraid was a bear or cougar turned out to be a lovely deer. By the end of this hike, I had tackled my fears while accomplishing a physical feat of which I felt incapable.

All of this to say that I have done an incredibly challenging hike on my own, so hiking alone shouldn't scare me any more. But it still does, to an extent. However, the fear is not enough to deter my hiking plans. Besides, when I'm hiking a trail that I've done before, that I recall not being a big deal, the fear is pretty minimal.

My hike this past weekend, though, turned out to be more of a challenge than anticipated. The first hiccup presented itself in the form of a fallen tree in the middle of the trail along a cliffside. I had two choices when I approached the tree: either climb over it, or crawl under it. As I assessed the climbing over option, I saw that the spot where I would need to plan my feet on the other side was slippery and sloped down the cliff. Given that I was alone, I decided that the risk of slipping and falling down any number of feet was not a smart one, so I opted to crawl under the tree. I took off my pack, squatted down, and hugged the tree as I passed under. Mission accomplished, even if I did get a little muddy.

The second challenge came in the form of a bridge with a warning: only one hiker could cross at a time. Apparently the bridge isn't terribly safe, but safe enough if only one person crosses at a time. It dawned on me then that the first time I hiked this trail with a friend a few years ago, this sign made us a little nervous. The fact that it was still there made me all the more nervous. Since there was a group of people nearby, I at least felt some confidence in knowing that if I fell, I could call for help and they would hear me. Needless to say, I crossed the bridge without incident.

My third and greatest challenge took the form of some steep switchbacks on a slick and rocky part of the trail. Climbing up them was not the issue for me, but as I ascended the trail, my mind started racing with the panic of knowing I would have to descend these very same switchbacks. With each upward step, I thought to myself "I'm going to have to walk back down this part." For me, there was no going back, there was no balking away from the switchbacks- I came to see Triple Falls, and by golly, I was going to make it there, whatever it took. I've hiked Dog Mountain on my own, gosh darn it! So I put my legs and trekking poles to the test and I climbed, then proceeded further along the trail. I came across yet another fallen tree (there were many of this trail- all obviously fallen within the past few months), and this time had no option but to climb over. Thank goodness for trekking poles for making the job easier. I made it to my destination, enjoyed the view, took some photos, and headed back the way I'd come. 

With every step I took back toward the switchbacks, my mind was teasing me and telling me how difficult it would be to descend the trail. Luckily, a couple of younger guys passed me on the trail and I stayed not too far behind them so that once I got to the switchbacks, I knew there would be someone to hear my cry for help should I fall. But that cry never came. When I came to the steepest part, it was nowhere near as bad as I had made it up to be in my mind. It was still scary, but I took each descent one step at a time. There is nothing quite like hiking solo to force your mind to be present, and I was never so present as in this moment. With each step, I focused my mind, chanting to myself, "one step at a time."

Hiking is a great time for reflection and truly getting to know oneself. On this particular hike, I learned a valuable lesson about facing challenges. I learned that when I set my mind toward a destination, I have a strong will and determination and will tackle any obstacle that comes my way. I learned that sometimes my mind lies to me, and tries telling me that I can't do things. But most of all, I learned that I am capable of facing any challenge, and that all I need to do is take things one step at a time.

You can follow my hiking adventures on Instagram @seekingwaterfalls

Lessons Learned From My First Six Hikes in the 52 Hike Challenge

17 February 2016

This year I took on the 52 Hike Challenge as a way for me to take care of physical, mental, and spiritual wellness. I've enjoyed hiking most of my adult life, and have always enjoyed spending time outdoors. Living in the heart of the city for over a year has increased my need for nature time, and thus I took on this challenge as a way to hold myself accountable and make self-care a priority.

It's called a challenge for a reason, and I'm going to share with you the lessons I've learned so far from my first six hikes.

Lesson 1: Take a friend if you need someone to hold you accountable. Starting a challenge is always the hardest part, so I made plans with my friend Katie on a sunny Sunday morning to tackle my first trail for the challenge. We were both successful, so we rewarded ourselves with coffee and fancy toast.

Lesson 2: Trekking poles are your friend. I felt like a goober for bringing them on this relatively easy urban hike, but on our way down from the top, I was so glad I had. There were ice and mud patches along the descent from the top, and those poles came in handy for both of us. Who cares if we looked like dweebs- at least we didn't biff it like a few other folks.

Lesson 3: I love this. I love hiking. I can't help but smile all along the trail, even for the hard parts.

Hike #2: Pittock Sanctuary at the Audubon Society

Lesson 4: Sometimes you have to force yourself to get out, even if it is for just a short trail. For some reason, I was feeling terribly anxious this particular day, but I knew I needed to get a hike in. I took a short hike close to town after an eye appointment. I was anxious about being alone in the woods, but grateful for the quiet time.

Lesson 5: Surprises are waiting when you least expect them. I met a peregrine falcon at the Audubon Society before beginning my jaunt, and it was a cool experience. I didn't know much about the birds before, but now I have a soft spot for them.

Lesson 6: Hiking in the rain can be a lot of fun.

Lesson 7: Hiking in the rain is messy.

Lesson 8: Hiking will not always affect your attitude, but your attitude will always affect your hiking. In this case, it was for the best. I was loving the smells, the sounds, and the mist in the forest. I was in awe, and I was ready to complete this hike. My mind was open, and therefore, I was able to handle the miserableness of the rain and thoroughly enjoy myself.

Hike 4: Same as Hike 3 (but not in the rain)

Lesson 9: Hiking with dogs can be fun.

Lesson 10: Hiking with dogs can be (very) messy.

Lesson 11: Sometimes, 45 minutes is just enough time for a hike, and totally worth it.

Lesson 12: Sometimes a hundred other people will have the same plan to hike the same trail at the same time.

Lesson 13: Trails change. This one saddened me a bit, to be honest. I hadn't hiked this trail in a few years, but when I used to hike it, I hiked it often as it was a short walk from my apartment. It used to be a quiet retreat with a really cool stone house tucked away in the woods. The trailhead now has lingering homeless folks late in the morning, and the cool stone house is now caved due to a tree that fell and graffiti'd by people who don't care about preserving beauty. I'm not happy about these changes, and will likely only return to the trail as a last resort hike.

Lesson 14: I'm out of shape. I may do barre and pyrolates and the occasional yoga, but my aerobic fitness is shot. 3 years ago, this hike was easy for me. This time, I was huffing and puffing on the ascent.

Lesson 15: Always take time to stop and enjoy the sun peeking through the trees.

Lesson 16: Waterfalls are pure magic. Few thing make me feel more like a kid than the approach to a waterfall. It's that first sound of rushing water, then the increasing vibration of the trail beneath my feet, followed by a first glimpse of white in the distance, to finally standing before a rushing cascade. I will always love that feeling.

Lesson 17: Beware the bite valve of your water reservoir. Mine hit me just below the eye and left a lovely bruise. Before we even started the hike. Go me. 

Lesson 18: It pays to be early. We arrived at the trailhead at 9am on a rainy Sunday, and there were few cars in the parking lot. We only passed one couple on the trail proper during our entire 1.5 hour hike. It was divine.

As you can see, I've learned a lot so far, and I know I will continue to learn with every hike. I'm proud of myself for making it this far in the challenge, and I look forward to growing as I make it through all 52. 

Tell me, what have you learned on the trail? Have you ever taken on a challenge? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.
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